Few things in a small town — where the public school system so often provides a communal spirit and heartbeat — are stronger than a sense of community.
And few people in a small town are more revered than those who have served their country.
The night before Veterans Day, students and teachers from Saranac Central School District in Northern New York quite literally brought local veterans to tears when they were given — as part of a fundraising effort that ignited the interest and involvement of the entire community — a check totaling $28,500. The money, presented during a packed and emotional school assembly, will be used to help the Robert LaFountain Disabled American Veterans Chapter 179 purchase a new passenger van to transport members to the VA Hospital in Albany for medical care.
“I definitely feel this event captured not only the essence of Veterans Day, but it was an event that so powerfully captured the essence of our community,” said Michele Bushey, president of the Saranac Teachers Association. “It was a showcase of the bonds that exist in our community. You could feel the support being reciprocated both ways.”
The fundraiser started back in August, the idea of Calvin Hamel and Amber Liberty, the district’s boys’ and girls’ varsity soccer coaches, respectively.
While varsity, junior varsity and modified players worked over their 10-week season to raise more than $25,000 through shirt sales, coin drives and other initiatives, elementary school students excitedly joined the effort, contributing coins from their piggy banks and donating their birthday money to raise $2,860 themselves. Parents and local businesses also chipped in.
“It was wonderful to see the community get so behind this effort,” said Liberty, a Saranac TA member who teaches first grade. “It was also a great lesson for students to see they could make such an important difference by coming together and working toward a common goal.”
The effort by students was more than just some random act of kindness. The funds raised will fulfill a desperate need, enabling the disabled American veterans chapter to replace its current transport vehicle which has racked up more than 200,000 miles.
On the night the check was presented, the high school gymnasium was filled with veterans, students, residents, teachers and administrators. A high school student sang the national anthem. A fourth grade chorus serenaded the veterans in attendance. A community member performed a number of songs. Veterans were moved to tears. They never anticipated so much money would be raised. Neither did the soccer coaches, Liberty said.
“There were tears everywhere. It was really something.”
Bushey, a high school science teacher, said it’s important for students to realize the positive impact they can make on their communities and for the public to see the good that’s happening in public schools.
“For the students this was a lesson about respect, compassion, empathy and goal-setting,” she said. “Students came together with coaches and teachers to come up with a solution for our veterans It was an impressive collaborative project.”